Sunday, May 30, 2010

Two Librarians and the Internment of Japanese Americans

"On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 a way of life ended for all persons of Japanese ancestry residing in California. Their communities and the very existence they had known were abruptly, and with a grim finality, terminated by the mass uprooting and exile of all men, women, and children of Japanese descent." "The attack on Pearl Harbor not only drew the United States into war, but within six months resulted in the detention of over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry by the United States government. Of this number, 70,000 were citizens of the United States by virtue of jus soli, a status they had acquired by being born in the United States of America." The quotations above are taken from an extensive online article in the Journal of San Diego History about the experiences of Japanese American residents of San Diego in the Poston Camps of the Colorado River Relocation Project in Arizona. The envelope above was the stimulus for my exploration of one of the more shameful episodes in American history. As a result I learned about the roles of two librarians in this regretful episode. The first librarian is identified on the envelope above. She is Ethel M. Manning and she was in charge of the Central School Library located at Poston Camp 2. Manning, a former employee of the California State Library, was employed by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) which was established to administer the relocation camps. The Central School Library served all three of the Poston camps. The second librarian is Clara E. Breed who at the time of the relocation was the Children's Librarian at the San Diego Public Library. Breed went on to become Director of the San Diego Public Library, and in 1983 wrote Turning the Pages: San Diego Public Library History 1882-1982. In her book Breed writes the following about the impact on the young Japanese users of the San Diego public Library: " Most of the Japanese children had been good readers and regular borrowers from the main library Children's Room. When they came to the library to return their last books and surrender their cards, they were given stamped postal cards and told, 'Write to us. We'll want to know where you are and how you are getting along, and we'll send you some books to read.' 'OK,' they answered, with a brief brightening of sober faces. As long as the war lasted, packages of new books, publisher's review copies, were mailed regularly to Santa Anita or Poston. Letters and occasional gifts -a carved wooden pendant or a corsage of crepe paper - came back in gratitude." A book Dear Miss Breed (Scholastic, 2006) has been written by Joanne Oppenheim about the role Clara Breed played in this period. A collection of over 300 letters received by Clara Breed can be viewed online at the Japanese American National Museum. The Smithsonian Institution has developed an online lesson plan for school children around the Clara Breed letters. The inscription signed by Clara Breed which is shown above came from my copy of Turning the Pages.

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